The Great Percolator

Where do I get my ideas?  I may have to cheat a little bit here and make a distinction between getting ideas and getting the story.  The ideas are easy enough if you stay open to them.  Take a bus ride and watch everyone that gets on.  In a half hour you’ll probably see at least three people who are interesting enough (a guy with one leg, an old woman with a shaved head, a teenage girl wearing a viking helmet) to qualify as a story idea.  That’s when you play the whatif game and it should only take a couple of questions to have a basic story idea.  What now?  You could start writing in a notebook right then and there but I like to throw it in the Percolator.

 There’s a machine in my brain where I throw in any little bits and just let ’em simmer, let ’em bubble.  Keep the heat low and don’t watch the pot, just give it some nice easy stirs and see what floats to the top.  I don’t always know what’s in there, the Percolator puts in all sorts of weird stuff.  But who cares what the ingredients are if you get a yummy story out of it?  You have to be patient, especially at first.  My writing group meets every two weeks and at first I would take most of that for percolation.  But the more you use it, the more you trust it and the faster it cooks.  I’ve had some where I just fed in a word or two, perhaps a situation and had the story idea five minutes later. 

A couple key points though–don’t think and don’t talk.  You’re not thinking, you’re percolating.  The Percolator will try putting things together and sorting them out and it’ll access any memories, previously stored ideas, or any other odd bits all on its own.  If something isn’t gelling it will drop to the bottom of the pot and try a different combination.  Thinking will just open the lid and let all the story steam out.  Talking is the same.  If someone asks you how it’s going just tell ’em it’s percolating.  If they’re a writer they won’t pester you further.  If they’re not a writer and they try to pester you, tell ’em to go pound salt.  You don’t owe ’em anything.  Wankers. 

If you feel like you can’t help but look under the lid or you think nothing’s cooking in there don’t worry.  Go do something monotonous that let’s you be alone, and silent.  A walk’s good but chopping wood with an axe would be even better.  The noise and rhythm of the axe will help hypnotize you and the percolator will start up and get to bubbling.  Mowing the lawn on a rider is even better still.  The rocking motion will quiet your body, a still body will quiet your mind and the subconscious will be free to work out all the details.  Kind of like riding a train I suppose.

J. K. Rowling is richer than the Queen all because of a little orphan boy with glasses.  I doubt Ms. Rowling had any idea how popular the Harry Potter stories would be but I daresay she knew she had a good story idea on her hands.  The story about the story is that the idea came to her ‘more or less fully formed’ one day as she rode the train.  I’m paraphrasing from memory but that’s pretty close and it may have even seemed that way to her, but I don’t think that’s how it happened.  I think she had been mulling the story over for many days, more likely weeks.  Barely conscious of it, perhaps wholly unconscious of it.  I’m willing to go further and bet it was the train itself which started her mind going and became the Hogwart’s Express. 

You can picture it can’t you?  The rythmic motions of the train, maybe some rain on the windows she’s staring through, the lack of conversation.  The whole while her inner storyteller was working it out.  Where was the train going, how long was the trip, what were the passengers like.  When the Storyteller had it pretty well pieced together, out it popped where the Writer saw it fully formed.  It’s true I’m presuming much and likely projecting because that’s how I ‘get’ my ideas.  I use The Great Percolator.   The good news is the Percolator will always come up with something.  The bad news is that’s not the real work.  You still have to write it.  So as soon as the timer on the Percolator dings get to work.

About Eric Bahle

Eric Bahle stopped going to his real job so he could be a full time digital author and storyteller. He loves being in the woods with his bow or on the water in his kayak. He lives in Pennsylvania with his lovely wife and a mongrel dog. He is working on his next bestselling story.


  1. Percolator is a good image for how the process of taking ideas to stories really works.